One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with mental illness is coping with the stigma attached to the condition.

Siobhan Ryan speaks to a group which works to overcome preconceptions and assumptions to help improve the health and wellbeing of the mentally ill in Sussex.

Mental distress affects young and old, rich and poor and can shatter lives by causing family and relationship breakdowns.

The condition can happen to anyone and recent figures from the Mind mental health charity have found that one in four people seeks help for mental health problems at some time in their lives More than 4,000 people take their own lives each year in the UK and more than two million prescriptions are issued every year for major tranquillisers.

More than 250,000 people are admitted to psychiatric hospitals annually.

Only 13 per cent of people with significant mental health problems have paid work, lower than any other disability group.

It is details like these that make groups such as the Adur and Shoreham Mental Health Association vitally important.

The association is a small independent group that provides a wide range of advice, information and support to people with mental health problems.

More than 100 people regularly use the services based at the Old School House in Shoreham and say it provides them with a vital lifeline.

Organisers say its main aim is to provide a place where people can go and are able to relax and get support without having to worry about reactions from others.

Some members have also tried acupuncture as a way of helping them to cope. Centre manager Gaynor Platt said the acupuncture was proving to be a popular option.

"It is another way of helping people to cope. It deals with lethargy but can also calm people down while avoiding the side effects of more traditional medication.

"We are willing to give something like this a try as it gives people more of a choice in how they cope with their condition. Sometimes those who are experiencing problems find the acupuncture is a very effective measure and are keen to keep on returning."

The other aim of the organisation is to help people get their lives back under control.

Mrs Platt said:"We run an outreach service which offers training, advice and information specifically aimed at getting people back into the community."

The centre also arranges a series of activities such as craft workshops as well as regular excursions to the cinema or bowling.

Mrs Platt said: "The general aim is to help people stay well and cope with the community as well as getting out and getting on with their lives."

Most of the members joining the association are referred by their GP or local mental health team and funding is provided through social services, Adur Council and West Sussex Health Authority.

The group also receives some lottery funding and actively carries out many fundraising events.

Mrs Platt said: "We are the only place in the Adur area to provide facilities like these and the demand is growing all the time.

"We need to have as much financial backing as possible so we can continue to provide the help and support that is needed."

As well as the association people with mental health problems can also get help from local representatives of Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales.

Its aim is to advancing the views, needs and ambitions of people with experience of mental distress.

The association can be contacted on 01273 465150 and Mind on 020 8519 2122.